https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2022/05/08/from-health-care-to-high-gas-prices-whats-of-concern-in-the-north.html

SUDBURY — Ontarians are feeling the pinch in their pocketbooks — but nowhere more than northern Ontario where residents pay more for everything from gas to groceries.

With the first leaders debate scheduled Tuesday afternoon in North Bay, issues in this part of the province are getting early attention.

Affordability is going to be key for many voters when they cast their ballots June 2, but there’s a “magnifying effect” in the north because families struggle with an even higher burden, said Dax D’Orazio, a post-doctoral fellow in political science at Queen’s University.

“Pocketbook issues are cropping up or have been a consistent focus of the campaign — and everything in northern Ontario is magnified in that sense. The price of gas — there’s a magnifying effect in northern Ontario, where something like public transportation isn’t as robust or accessible as it might be in larger cities,” said D’Orazio, who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie and frequently travels back and forth.

Gas prices in Sudbury pushed past $2 on the weekend, hitting $2.01 on Saturday.

“There’s just a much heavier hit in the context of cost-of-living issues in northern Ontario.”

Beyond the pocketbook, he said the other big problem is health care. “If you think there’s a health crisis in southern Ontario, there’s a massive crisis in northern Ontario” that was only exacerbated by the pandemic, he said.

“It’s impossible to live in northern Ontario and have something positive to say about the health-care system” given the dearth of doctors and the long waits to see specialists, he added.

Over the weekend, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford was in the Sault, Thunder Bay and Timmins, and is expected to spend a lot of time up north during the election campaign, with the party particularly hopeful for Timmins candidate George Pirie, the local mayor, running in an NDP stronghold.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath made her way to Sudbury on Sunday, where voters in Nickel Belt last gave veteran MPP France Gelinas a landslide win in 2018, as well as newcomer Jamie West, who took the riding from the Liberals four years ago.

Horwath is to unveil her party’s northern platform in Sudbury Monday morning, and told reporters on Sunday that health care will also be a focus.

“We know that northerners have never had the same access to health care, the same attention that some of the southern communities have had from the provincial government, both in the 15 years of the Liberals and the last four years (of a PC government),” Horwath told reporters at a Sunday morning Mother’s Day brunch outside of Cambridge, saying some residents drive more than two hours to get to the closest staffed emergency room.

“Our platform is going to reflect what northerners have told us are their priorities.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is heading straight to North Bay on Monday, and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner will be stopping in Bracebridge on Monday.

The Liberals say they will release their northern platform on Tuesday, and that it includes restoring the Ontario Northlander from Toronto to northern Ontario and those rides are eligible for the party’s buck-a-ride pledge.

The northern platform will be fully costed and “will include strong commitments to four-lane Highway 69 and Highway 11/7 between Thunder Bay and Nipigon by 2025” and also rebuild Highway 101 in Timmins, among other initiatives, said party press secretary Andrea Ernesaks.

The Greens will also release their northern platform on Tuesday morning.

D’Orazio said an exodus of Ontarians to smaller cities during the pandemic has put pressure on housing markets in the north, and while it’s great to have more people there, it has been “pushing up housing prices to an extreme degree.”

He also said homelessness, addiction and mental health issues aren’t just big-city crises and must be addressed.

“There are portions of Sault Ste. Marie that are completely unrecognizable compared to when I was growing up in the area,” he said of the “quickly spiralling crisis” of mental health and addictions, with very few options for detox or rehab.

The PCs have said they will cut gas taxes to give Ontarians some relief at the pumps — but that doesn’t kick in until July 1, and only for six months. The NDP has proposed bills to regulate gas prices.

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy